January 7, 2005


Warning From a Student of Democracy's Collapse (CHRIS HEDGES, 1/06/05, NY Times)

FRITZ STERN, a refugee from Hitler's Germany and a leading scholar of European history, startled several of his listeners when he warned in a speech about the danger posed in this country by the rise of the Christian right. [...]

The street fighting in his native Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) between Communists and Nazis, the collapse of German democracy and the ruthless suppression of all opposition marked his childhood, and were images and experiences that would propel him forward as a scholar.

"I saw one of the last public demonstrations against Hitler," he said. "Men, women and children walked through the street and chanted 'Hunger! Hunger! Hunger!' "

His paternal grandparents had converted to Christianity. His parents were baptized at birth, as were Mr. Stern and his older sister. But this did not save the Sterns from persecution. Nazi racial laws still classified them as Jews.

"It was only Nazi anti-Semitism that made me conscious of my Jewish heritage," he said. "I had been brought up in a secular Christian fashion, celebrating Christmas and Easter. My father had to explain it to me."

His schoolmates were swiftly recruited into Hitler youth groups and he and other Jews were taunted and excluded from some activities.

"Many of my classmates found the organized party experience, which included a heavy dose of flag waving and talk of national strength, very exhilarating," said Dr. Stern, who lost an aunt and an uncle in the Holocaust. "It was something I never forgot."

His family fled to New York in 1938 when he was 12. He eventually went to Columbia University intending to study medicine. But his passion for the past, along with questions about what happened to his homeland, caused him to switch his focus to history. He wanted to grasp how democracies disintegrate. He wanted to uncover the warning signs other democracies should heed. He wanted to write about the seductiveness of authoritarian movements, which he once described in an essay, "National Socialism as Temptation."

"There was a longing in Europe for fascism before the name was ever invented," he said. "There was a longing for a new authoritarianism with some kind of religious orientation and above all a greater communal belongingness. There are some similarities in the mood then and the mood now, although also significant differences."

Note how even his own analysis shows that Nazism--like all the isms--was a secular replacement for religion. It's hardly a coincidence that it is the secularists in the West who advocate things like euthanasia, eugenics, medical experimentation on humans, Darwinism, biological determinism and the like--all the early precursors of Nazism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 7, 2005 8:58 AM

"There are some similarities in the mood then and the mood now, although also significant differences."

Well, yeah, differences like we have a good economy, a 220 year democratic history, the Christians lack private militias like the SA or SS, Bush really is not Hitler. Other than that, the "mood" is exactly the same.

Senility is a very sad thing.

Posted by: Bob at January 7, 2005 9:41 AM

Stern gets wheeled out of his managed care facility from time to time to discourse on the evils of modern conservatism from time to time. The last time he complained about American conservative criticism of liberals by comparing American liberals like Teddy Kennedy to people like John Stuart Mill, which would have come as a shock to people like John Stuart Mill.

Now, he compares an authoritarian top-down statist movement like Nazism with American evangelical Christianity which is congregation and individual based and pathologically democratic in orientation. Alzheimer's anyone?

Posted by: Bart at January 7, 2005 9:46 AM

Once again this brings to mind George Grant's remark that, although the left is always predicting the advent of fascism in America, when it actually comes it always seems to descend on Europe.

Posted by: Peter B at January 7, 2005 10:15 AM

As a reporter, Mr. Hedges makes a great graduation speaker.

Posted by: AC at January 7, 2005 11:04 AM

As a graduation speaker, Hedges would be better off performing mime.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 7, 2005 11:22 AM

All great comments. Nazism is very alien to the American geist. Nazi writers, such as Goebbels, were all over this. They admired our Confederacy as an example of a racial state, which should give the Rebsymps something to chew on, but they understood very well that it can't happen here.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 7, 2005 11:24 AM

somebody should ask this old tosspot how christianity fared under the nazis.

Posted by: chris markle at January 7, 2005 12:34 PM

A nightmare vision. Safire retires and they give his slot to Chris Hedges.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 7, 2005 10:52 PM

It is amazing how few people in Europe can understand the Nazi movement. What is sadder, though, is the quality of reporting that they get: their newspapers only reinforce the stereotypes that lead to this "Hitler used pencils and so does Bush!" kind of logic. George Soros was up at the top of the list before the election for this crackpot style of reasoning.

Posted by: Arnold Williams at January 7, 2005 11:12 PM

That is only a nightmare version for stockholders of the NY Times Corporation.

Posted by: Bart at January 8, 2005 6:14 AM

Naziism was the continuation of German militarism by other means.

German militarism was an outgrowth of Lutheranism, though perhaps not a necessary outgrowth. It was enunciated first in a church (the Garrisonkirche in Potsdam) and Christianity and German militarism were always linked until Hitler tried to delink them.

He failed. A week before he became Chancellor, the archbishop of Cologne refused to offer the Sacrament to uniformed Nazis, a gesture toward Hitler, who was trying to keep the SA out of church. A week after, the archbishop offered it to Nazis in squads and ranks.

The Germans got the message.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 8, 2005 8:57 PM

But they'd always been militarists, the new ingredient that made them truly evil was applied biology.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2005 9:05 PM

Harry: Lutheranism is not Christianity, however, but a surrender of the church to the state.

The defining moment for German nationalism. as viewed by the Nazis, was in the 11th Century, when the Church blocked the original Drang nach Osten on the grounds that the western Slavs, recently converted to Christianity, were no longer fair game for being forced off their land.

You (the "you," you) can trot out all kinds of examples of Christians temporizing and equivocating during the Nazi era, for there were many. The authoratative teaching on the subject is Mit Brennerden Sorge, the encylical condemning Nazism as pagan idolatry.

It would have been nicer, I agree, if the Church had been more explicit in its comdemnation of Nazism, but by the 20th Century it had long been out of the interdiction and depositiion business, for which we may thank Lutheranism, among others. Then too, the policy of using Germany to restrain and weaken Commmunism enters into the equation

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 10, 2005 6:53 AM

Here is a good recent Chris Hedges item from Jim Taranto:

Someone Should Trim the Hedges
Chris Hedges, a New York Times reporter, gave a speech at the annual conference of the Association of Opinion Page Editors, in which he blasted his own paper for being insufficiently anti-American. Chris Reed of the Orange County Register reports on The American Spectator's Web site:

"We're absolutely reviled around the world, as we should be," Hedges said. "Our only friends are war criminals"--a reference, he explained, to Ariel Sharon and Vladimir Putin.

America's amoral, bloodthirsty ways and the hate they generate would be much plainer to the American people, Hedges said, if only so many journalists weren't "trapped" by the government's war clichés and oriented to a Washington-centric view of the world. This group, he said, included his bosses at the Times.

"There was absolutely no interest in my newspaper in presenting the views of the French" as the U.S. moved toward war in Iraq, Hedges said. Instead, there was lots of guffawing over anti-French jokes, which he termed "racist."

Who knew? The New York Times' newsroom is a place where mockery of France is so severe that a heroic, hardy, death-defying war correspondent would consider it tantamount to workplace harassment.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 10, 2005 1:33 PM